Who Wants to Be a School Board Member? Eight People Apply to Replace Indya Kincannon

 

Friday was the ostensible deadline for residents of the 2nd District to turn in their applications to replace Indya Kincannon on the Knox County Schools Board of Education—at least, for a couple of months. 

Kincannon, of course, is about to leave for Slovenia for a year, where her husband has a Fulbright Fellowship. She has resigned from the school board effective Aug. 18. Since her term isn’t up until 2016, there will be a special election for her replacement in November. In the meantime, someone appointed by Knox County Commission will fill in.

It turns out a lot of people want to be that appointee—eight, in fact, including several former KCS employees and at least one person who plans to run for Kincannon’s seat this fall. (Ten people submitted their resumes on Friday. On Monday, Oakwood resident Emma Ellis-Cosigua withdrew her name from consideration, and late Tuesday, Tracie Sanger—who is running in November—did the same. See sidebar on page 12 for the full list.) 

It’s still possible that other names could pop up. On Sunday, 2nd District Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles sent an e-mail to the would-be appointees explaining how the process will work. Near the end of the missive, she wrote, “However, you should know that anyone may submit a resume at any time between now and the day of the appointment, and that nominations may also be taken from the floor on the day of the appointment.”

Commission will interview all the candidates on Monday, after work session ends at 4 p.m. It will officially appoint Kincannon’s interim replacement the following Monday during its regular monthly meeting.

There’s no clear determination, at this point, whether Commission will appoint a caretaker for the seat—one of the people who have no plans to run this fall—or whether it will appoint someone purely on qualifications (or networks) alone. Commissioner Dr. Richard Briggs says he has no idea which way his colleagues are leaning and notes that they’ve “gone back and forth” about caretaker appointments in the past. (To wit: In 2011, Commission appointed Sue Atchley as a caretaker for the state Senate 6th District after Jamie Woodson resigned, but in 2008 it appointed Patricia Hall Long to General Sessions Court, and she has since run for, and won, election to the seat twice.)

Commissioner Tony Norman, a retired KCS teacher himself, also says he doesn’t know what the sentiment is among fellow commissioners.

“Personally, I don’t have a feeling one way or another, at this point, about whether we just appoint a caretaker for the seat. My choice will be the person who is best for kids and the school system,” Norman says. “I’m not going to be afraid to appoint someone aggressive.”

In regard to the latter point, Norman is referencing a column in Sunday’s News Sentinel, in which KNS editor Jack McElroy urges Commission not to do anything crazy with the interim appointment.

“Some commissioners, led by former teacher Norman, have made no secret of their dislike for [Superintendent Jim] McIntyre. In making the appointment they might be inclined to plant a time bomb that would blow up before voters have a chance to weigh in. Could a coup to oust the superintendent during the three-month window be a possibility?” McElroy writes.

Norman pooh-poohs the idea of a “coup” but says he won’t be making his decision based on McElroy’s input either way. Amy Broyles, who represents the 2nd District on Commission, says her focus is on the neighbors she represents.

“It’s very important to me that the person appointed is the person the 2nd District wants,” Broyles says. “I’m hoping that we [as a district] can come together over one to three candidates, and we can present those choices to Commission, and it will respect them.”

In an e-mail Broyles sent Sunday afternoon to her constituents and media outlets, she said she would be making her decision based on “ONLY INPUT FROM VERIFIABLE RESIDENTS OF THE SECOND DISTRICT.” (The caps are hers.) She clarified Monday that she’s only speaking for herself there, and other commissioners say they’re open to input from anyone in the county. 

Procedurally, Commission can appoint whomever it wants, even a candidate to which Broyles is opposed. But Broyles says she would be surprised if that happens.

“I have always found [fellow commissioners] to be reasonable, thoughtful, and easy with which to work, and with a solid history of making good appointments regardless of others’ political agendas,” Broyles says.

Community members can get a look at the candidates Thursday evening during a League of Women Voters forum, set for 6 p.m. at Gresham Middle School. Broyles will also be discussing the appointment with Commissioner Jeff Ownby on Friday at noon at La Fiesta on Western Avenue; the public is welcome to attend.

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It would be an understatement to say that the school board races earlier this year were heated. Incumbents (or supporters of the status quo) and anti-McIntyre opponents lobbed accusations and jabs back and forth, making for the most dramatic elections in recent memory. 

The end results weren’t the referendum on McIntyre many thought they would be—Lynne Fugate and Gloria Deathridge kept their seats, and newcomer Terry Hill beat two more stridently anti-McIntyre candidates (along with a pro-McIntyre one). Still, teachers and others frustrated with the current administration, including those active in SPEAK (or Students, Parents, Educators Across Knox County) think Hill, 8th District board member Mike McMillan, and incoming members Patti Lou Bounds and Amber Rountree—all four former KCS teachers and staff—will be a solidly anti-McIntyre block. 

Others aren’t as convinced about that block of votes, as elected officials often serve on a platform very different from the one on which they ran. But there’s no doubt that SPEAK will be lobbying heavily for a pro-teacher, anti-administration candidate, both in the interim and long-term.

In the interim, Kincannon’s replacement this fall will have the opportunity to vote on the next chair of the board. If the temporary appointee joins forces with the predicted anti-McIntyre block, McMillan could replace Fugate at the head of the dais. If that happened, the drama at recent school board meetings could get even worse—last week McMillan invoked personal privilege to postpone a vote on the district’s long-range plan, and Fugate and McIntyre overruled him in executive committee, a move that caused outrage among the SPEAK members present.

Yet, as of now, the three announced candidates for November—John Fugate, Jamie Rowe, and Tracie Sanger—aren’t letting too much slip about their sympathies and supporters, although it’s not hard to read a little bit between the lines. 

Kincannon says, at this point, she is not endorsing anyone for the interim appointment, but over the weekend, in an e-mail to us, she endorsed Sanger, stating, “Tracie would provide the perspective of a parent with kids in school today (at Shannondale and Gresham).* She’s been an effective advocate for Shannondale, has teaching experience (Special Ed), including at several urban schools, and is already well versed in the most pressing issues, e.g. teacher evaluations, testing, etc. … 

“*With the recent turnover on the board, Doug Harris will be the only BOE member with a child currently in KCS, and his youngest will graduate in December,” Kincannon continues. “The day to day experience of my daughters, along with my presence in schools as a parent, has always helped inform my decisions on the Board.”

Sanger officially appointed her husband as her campaign treasurer on July 29, so she’s had the legal ability to raise money since then (and has been, she tells us). Rowe, a Fountain City resident and longtime community activist, appointed a campaign treasurer on July 22 and announced her candidacy on Facebook last week. McElroy’s column says Rowe has 250 people on her host committee; Rowe says that’s “not exactly” accurate, but “it’s pretty close.”

Rowe doesn’t have a campaign website yet, but among her 40 Facebook friends—she just joined last month—are several SPEAK regulars, including Sally Absher, the 4th District candidate who lost to Lynne Fugate earlier this year and who is now reporting on education for the Knoxville Focus; state Rep. (and KCS teacher) Gloria Johnson; and Lauren Hopson, the Halls Elementary teacher who first started all the speaking out at board meetings last fall. 

Fugate hasn’t appointed a campaign treasurer yet, and he says that as of right now, he isn’t planning on asking for donations anyway. According to Knox County election administrator Cliff Rodgers, petitions for the November ballot will be available after Commission officially accepts Kincannon’s resignation (likely at the Aug. 25 meeting). They’ll be due back in Rodgers’ office by noon on Sept. 10.

Meanwhile, the current board—including the four outgoing members—will announce their evaluations of McIntyre during a special called meeting next Monday at 5 p.m. They won’t be voting on a contract extension, just the evaluations, but conspiracy theories are already floating around that the board scheduled McIntyre’s evaluation to spite the new representatives taking office in September. 

That’s not actually true, since the superintendent’s evaluation had always taken place in August until last year, when the board approved a new policy. Several board members told us this, and KCS spokesperson Melissa Ogden confirmed their accounts in an e-mail.

“[I]n May 2013 the board approved a timeline to allow for the superintendent to be evaluated in election years during the month of August to allow the current sitting board to complete the evaluation. In non-election years, the evaluation is performed in December to allow time for all of the appropriate data to be included (test scores, graduation rates, etc.) since we usually don’t receive that information from the state until late fall each year,” Ogden writes.

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Who’s Running For What

There are eight candidates in the 2nd District seeking to replace Indya Kincannon on the Knox County Schools Board of Education for three months, until voters chose a permanent replacement in November. Some of them definitely don’t want the position full-time, others definitely do. And some are still undecided. Here, in alphabetical order, is who’s in the mix.

Interim Only

Juanita Cannon: The North Hills resident is a former gym and biology teacher who worked her way up to principal at Vine Middle and the alternative school program. She retired in 2002 after 40 years in the schools, then taught as an adjunct education professor at LMU until 2010. She has extensive volunteer experience, and she also currently hosts the Etiquette Talk Show on WJBE. 

Laura Kildare: A resident of the Fairmont/Emoriland neighborhood, Kildare taught in KCS schools from 2004-2009 before returning to school herself—she’s expecting to get a doctorate with a focus on special education in December.

Diana Ray: The Old North Knoxville resident is the former community development manager for the Girl Scouts and also served in the Peace Corps. She has a first-grader in the school system, and she says her Cuban heritage and fluency in Spanish would be asset.

Jennifer Searle: Searle is a North Hills parent of three children in KCS schools, longtime school volunteer, and PTA board member. She formerly worked as a grant coordinator and case manger for Bridge Refugee Services and Catholic Charities. 

Rick Staples: Staples ran for Council last fall against Nick Della Volpe in the 4th District. He doesn’t include his address on his resume, but last year he said he lived near the Whittle Springs Golf Course. Staples runs the GED program at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, although most of his resume highlights his campaign experience.

Undecided About Running

Charlotte Dorsey: Dorsey is a longtime Fountain City resident who retired from KCS in 2003 after 24 years in the elementary schools, first teaching and then serving as the principal of Bearden Elementary for nine years. She also worked as a consultant to the state Department of Education until 2008. She says she is “still weighing” whether to run in November.

Elizabeth Lane: Another ONK resident, Lane says her business expertise would an advantage on the Board. She’s worked for Texaco and Shell (doing what, her resume doesn’t say), and she has also volunteered feeding the homeless and as literacy tutor. She says she hasn’t “given [running in November] any thought.”

Definitely Running

John Fugate: Fountain City’s Fugate is the vice-president of Commercial Bank. He worked as a principal and coach in Claiborne and Hancock Counties from 1969-1974 and currently has grandchildren in KCS schools.

Running, Doesn’t Want Interim Appointment

Jamie Rowe: Rowe is a longtime Fountain City resident whose children went all the way through the school system. She has volunteered in the schools but is best known for her other community and neighborhood activism over the past 25-plus years.

Tracie Sanger: Another Fountain City resident, Sanger originally sought the interim appointment as well as the seat, but she withdrew her name from the pool of the former on Tuesday evening. She was a KCS special education teacher for 15 years, having recently resigned from her position at Corryton Elementary to focus on campaigning. Sanger also has young children in KCS schools and has received Kincannon’s endorsement for November.

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